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To Surprise Oneself

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She watched the bacon's bubble expand, then burst with a satisfying pop as the dripping sizzled in the pan. She gave the sausage a final prod and poked the beans about as the black smoke started to drift out from the griller. Deftly, she slipped the toast from the rack and onto the plate, then poured the beans over it.

Breakfast on the table, she poured the tea, and freshened up her cuppa just as Gene came in the room.

“Cheers, love,” he muttered, a barely-formed kiss blown from his lips as he passed by and sat down.

“Chops alright for yer tea?” Mrs Hunt asked as she fished out a speck of bread crumb from her cup.

“Lamb or pork?” Gene paused mid-chew.

“Whatever's on special down Co-op.”

“Surprise me,” Gene answered with a shrug.

“Maybe one day I will.” She thought it, but didn't say it. Then she said it.

Gene's snort could have come from what used to be the pig he was eating.

A little later, with the house to herself, Mrs Gene Hunt set the newly washed dishes to drain on the rack, noting the grot starting to clog up the plastic grid. It could stand to stay for a little bit, she mused as she swept the kitchen floor.

In the living room, she fluffed up the settee cushions and straightened the Radio Times on the side table, turning the TV page to today. Each show had its own slot, day after day, hour after hour.

As she stood by the record player, she slipped a record from its sleeve and carefully ran a cloth over the vinyl. She could play it over and over and never tire of it.

In the hallway, she picked up the morning's post and sorted the bills, each addressed to Mr and Mrs Gene Hunt. Sometimes she thought of changing her name to Jean, just for a laugh.

Climbing the stairs, she laughed out loud. Just because she could.

Bed made and bathroom tidied, she looked in the clothes hamper. Of course it was full, it always seemed to be full. Downstairs, with colours separated from whites, she filled the twin-tub washer and made another cuppa.

The clock ticked softly as she sat and listened to Roger Whittaker, kitchen door open to the weak sunshine and bumble bees in the yard's potted plants.

Time to turn the record over, and time to put the wet clothes in the spinner, then load up the washer again.

Summer and winter, she could trace the arc of the sun from her spot looking out the kitchen window. Washer to spinner, one side of a record to the other, but she remained in one spot, hearing the ticking clock of her life.

***


The library stood before her, and she hurried inside as the downpour intensified. Standing in the lobby, she shook the battered umbrella and pushed it back into the right shape, scowling at the broken hinge.

“Looks a bit wonky,” came a woman's voice. “Plonk it in the bucket and come on in.”

Mrs Hunt ran a hand through her wet hair and smiled. “Haven't been to the library since I were a little girl!”

“Come sign up, then and have a lend,” the librarian grinned as she pinned a notice to the board.

“Women's Lib?” Mrs Hunt said, reading the notice.

“Liberation! Freedom to be yourself. We've got some new books on feminism, come in if you're interested,” the young woman held out her hand to show the way.

From behind the wood panelled front desk, the librarian carefully filled out a new membership card and paused for a moment. “Name?”

“Mrs Gene Hunt.”

“Jean's such a lovely name! Is it short for Jeanette, like Jeanette MacDonald?”

“What? Oh, no. Gene is my husband.”

“Mrs Hunt, I asked your name, not your husband's. Unless he'd like a library card as well,” the young woman's voice was gentle and her smile was sweet as she looked at Mrs Hunt.

The minute hand slowly crossed the new hour as Mrs Hunt looked into the librarian's eyes with a new determination in her gaze. “My name is Deidre.”

 ***

“I don't give a monkey's what you do, love. Just as long as my tea's ready when I come home,” Gene said through a mouthful of Yorkshire pudding and gravy. “Bloody good, these puds.”

“Are you saying you don't mind, or you simply don't care ?” Deidre set down her fork, genuinely confused.

“Eh? Look, I'm just saying that with my copper's hours I can't just leave you chained to the kitchen sink. What's so confusing about that?” Gene stared back in confusion.

“Sometimes, I just feel like we're having two different conversations,” Deidre held back a sigh and mopped up a blob of gravy on her plate with a bit of crusty bread.

As Gene ate in silence, Deidre lost herself in the aroma of the bread. “Well, it's settled, I'm going to the conference.”

***

“Bloody Nora, it's like a fishwives' convention in here,” Ray muttered as he pushed through the mob of women. “Phyllis, you got your knitting circle over?”

There was a yell from somewhere in the throng. “Sod off, fascist pig!”

Ray span around and glared at the women, before being nudged by Chris. He shook his head and trudged past Phyllis who was masterfully keeping a straight face. The booking desk was surrounded by chaos, but she ruled with supreme, deadpan calm.

It took half an hour to process the protesters, their chants fading into the background as they were transferred to the cells. The last woman was brought over and she stared up at Phyllis.

“Lucky last, then. Name?” Phyllis drawled.

“Deidre Hunt,” came the confident reply.

Phyllis looked up from the booking sheet to Mrs Hunt, holding her gaze. The minute hand seemed to freeze as it ticked onto the hour.

***

“I could always lose the charge sheet, you know. That copper who booked you in is a clueless numpty. Nobody will know. He won't know,” Phyllis was matter-of-fact as she sipped her tea.

“I don't care who else knows, especially Gene,” Deidre didn't look up as she concentrated on dunking her Hob Nob in her tea. She stared up at Phyllis with an impish look in her eyes as she sucked the biscuit.

Phyllis couldn't hide her smirk. “He'll go bonkers. Is the entire goal of this Women's Libbers lark to wind up the Great British husband?”

“Only the terrible ones. Anyway, thought it'd be right up your alley. How many women detectives are there? Area Commanders?” Deidre tapped Phyllis's arm gently. “What would happen if you went for a promotion? I like the sound of Inspector Dobbs.”

“Yes, I can see it now. Inspector Dobbs and the Case of the Never-Ending Paperwork,” Phyllis scowled. “I'm good at being a Sergeant. I'm bloody marvellous, in fact! That said, our Annie Cartwright should be a name to remember, and if she doesn't get to Borough Commander I'll be rioting on the streets with you lot.”

Deidre couldn't help but smile as she listened to Phyllis. She hadn't felt so alive in years, and hadn't expected to feel like they'd been friends forever after such a short time.

“What, love?” Phyllis was watching her with curiosity.

Deidre blinked once. “Sorry, I do tend to stare when I'm listening. You know what? Our group's having a self-defence class next week, maybe you could come and share a few pointers?”

“If you get grabbed by some geezer, just grab 'em by the knackers. Hard. Yank 'em out. Then run,” Phyllis paused to sip her tea, “Of course, most blokes who get violent with women are the old man, so you've got that stopping you.” She tapped her head. “That little voice in your head – his voice - that says he loves you, that he'll be sorry when he sobers up, and that it'll never happen again. Until the next time.”

Deidre pondered her words, nodding slowly. “Gene's never walloped me once, you know. Oh, he's been moody and boozey, and we've rowed over the years. That's one good thing.”

She looked into Phyllis's eyes and let the unsaid 'but' hang in the air. Silently, Phyllis brushed aside a strand of Deidre's fair hair from her face, one or two grey hairs shining in the light as they sat together. Deidre placed her hand on top of Phyllis's, not caring about how rough it was, but savouring the warmth of the gesture.

***

Pay the milkman, sort out the Green Shield stamps in her purse, sort out the meat in the chest freezer, read a new book, go to a Women's Lib meeting. Deidre turned over the record and smoothed down her clothes as she checked herself in the living room mirror.

“He won't mind how you look, you know,” Gene said as he walked to the front door.

“Who?” Deidre said to his reflection.

“Your boyfriend. Brucie,” Gene shrugged his coat back on. “Nothing like going on an obbo with a decent tea in your belly. Don't wait up.”

“Brucie? I'm going on a girls' night out,” Deidre frowned.

“Forsyth. Thought you was having a night in front of the telly?” Gene nodded to the box in the corner of the room.

“Go catch your villain, and have fun,” Deidre smiled.

“Just as long as Eric and Ernie don't get jealous,” Gene opened the door as the next song started. “That's my cue for my farewell, but not the last one, I hope. Night, love.”

“Night, love.”

 ***

“You think you'll leave him?”

“We're,” Deidre paused, trying to find the right words. “Comfortable, I suppose.”

Phyllis traced a finger up Deidre's thigh, making circles on the bare flesh. “Do you want to be comfortable?”

“Sometimes. Sometimes I want danger. Discomfort. The thrill,” Deidre caught her breath as Phyllis moved her hand up a little.

Phyllis slid her hand over the warmth of Deidre's vulva, her thumb pushing against her clitoris. Her other hand cupped Deidre's breast, warm and heavy in her palm. Deidre let a small cry escape her lips as Phyllis slowly moved her thumb, sending little electric shocks along her body.

“I've never felt anything like that before,” she gasped, barely able to think straight.

“Most men can find a pub quicker than the clitoris,” Phyllis whispered, still busy with her fingers.

The bed rocked as Deidre let out a peal of laughter, part joy, part unleashed and undiscovered sensuality. In Phyllis's bed, the world seemed so far away. The peeling wallpaper didn't matter, the creaking floorboards didn't matter. Deidre felt the warmth of Phyllis next to her, felt her kiss upon her lips, she felt her own body respond in ways she'd never thought possible. She wanted to explore herself, explore Phyllis, and explore a new world in the morning beyond Gene.

She didn't need a map or a compass. She'd surprise herself.